Putting the Chill on Outdoor Faucets

In cold climate areas, fall frosts signal that it's time to winterize outdoor faucets. Garden hoses need to be removed from faucets, drained (hanging them over a clothesline works well), coiled, and stored for the winter. Faucets that sit on the house exterior (known as sillcocks or hose bibs) generally have a shutoff valve on the pipe leading to the faucet, inside the house. (If they don't, you should install one.) To avoid having the faucet freeze and burst during cold weather, turn off the shutoff valve, and then open the faucet to drain any water that remains in the pipe. In the spring, reopen the valve.

Of course, shutting off the water means that you no longer have running water outside the house. For mild areas, you may be able to avoid shutting off the water by buying an insulated cover for the faucet. In colder areas, however, you'll need a frost-proof sillcock. These extend a long tube into the house, inside which is the valve that opens and closes the water supply-handily located beyond the freezing temperatures.

To replace a regular faucet with a frost-proof sillcock, first check the existing pipes to ensure that you have room to install the sillcock's longer tube. Talk to your plumbing store staff, perhaps bringing with you a Polaroid or digital photo of your current setup so that they can properly advise you on the right sillcock to buy.

Close the existing faucet's shutoff valve or the house water supply, and use a pipe cutter or hacksaw to cut the water supply pipe at the point where it needs to meet the end of the new sillcock's tube. Replace the old sillcock with the new one, fastening its collar loosely in place on the exterior house wall. Double-check that the sillcock tube meets the water pipe and that the sillcock is installed at a slight downward angle to let the water automatically drain out of it.

Frost-proof sillcocks, or faucets, mean that you have access to water outside all winter long-even when the temperature dips below freezing.

Most instructions now tell you to solder the two copper pipes and their fittings together, but if you're not comfortable with this, talk to your plumbing store about fittings that will connect the two ends without the need for flame. Tighten up the screws that fasten the sillcock to the outside wall, and caulk any gaps. Turn the water back on, and check for leaks.

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